Punishment Should End after Time Served
We were so moved after this recent OpEd by the amazing Tamisha Walker, Executive Director of the Safe Return Project, that we could not help re-publishing some of it.
The RPA partners with the Safe Return Project as part of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Alliance, which works to reduce racial inequalities in our criminal justice system. The coalition has successfully worked on many issues, including instituting “Ban the Box” in Richmond, and advocating for the appointment of Diana Becton for interim District Attorney.
San Francisco Chronicle: Punishment should end after time served
By Tamisha Walker
November 14, 2017
Our system of criminal justice is built on a fundamental belief that those convicted of wrongdoing have a debt that should be paid to society, and then forgiven. But for many people with criminal records, the consequences of past mistakes continue to hamper our ability to thrive long after that debt has been paid.
I know these challenges firsthand. And I know the changes we as a society need to make to help people like me put their lives back together.
I have been one of the lucky ones. But for every success story like mine, there are dozens of people who continue to be shut out of society. There are nearly 5,000 different restrictions placed on people with felony convictions in California, making it difficult if not impossible for people to secure jobs, housing, student loans and other keys to achieving economic security and financial stability.
Federal, state and local laws on the books create obstacles for people trying to reassemble their lives after experiencing the trauma of incarceration.
The situation is particularly difficult for women, who face unique challenges and needs when they reintegrate into society. The majority of re-entry programs are geared toward men. Issues like access to housing, employment and public assistance become more dire for women, especially those with young children, as they try to put their lives back together.
When I was released from jail in 2009, my first priority was to regain custody of my kids. But in order to do that, I needed to have stable housing and a job. Time and time again, my applications for housing or employment were rejected simply because of my past mistakes. I remember going to the Burlington Coat Factory in Richmond, joining the hundreds of people standing in line for about 100 open positions.
I got through the first interview feeling really confident, leaving with a friendly handshake from the woman who conducted the interview. As I walked away, I saw her look at the application, and drop it in the trash. My heart sank. I knew I would never get a call back. More than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed a year after their release, and when they are able to find a job, they often are paid less.
I had to check the box admitting to my past record. In a competitive hiring environment, I knew I didn’t stand a chance.
To read more, click here.
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